ACLJ Lawsuit Obtains Previously Classified Obama State Department Report on Anti-Israel UNRWA – Will Be Challenging Key Redactions
The ACLJ has just obtained a crucial Obama Administration report on an anti-Israel U.N. agency, which many in Congress believe will expose the U.N. agency’s fraudulent over-reporting on the number of Palestinian “refugees.”
Until now, the Obama State Department’s report on United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) had been classified.
The fact that it has now been declassified is a big win in and of itself. That’s step one.
For months, key Members of Congress have been calling for the declassification and public release of this State Department report. The State Department bureaucracy had refused to comply.
The ACLJ submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the report and subsequently filed a lawsuit when the State Department failed to produce the report. Last month, a federal court ordered the State Department to begin processing the document for production.
In response to our litigation and the court’s order, the State Department has declassified and released the report to the ACLJ. However, while it has been declassified, key portions of the report have still been redacted. We believe that the redacted portions are crucial to exposing what we and many others consider an effort to conceal UNRWA fraud from the American public.
The ACLJ will be going back to federal court to demand the report be unredacted and released in its entirety. That will be step two.
Recent media reports indicate the critical importance of this Obama Administration report:
Key lawmakers in Congress are increasing pressure on the [State Department] to release a long classified government report on Palestinian refugees that insiders have described as a potential game changer in how the United States views the [Palestinian] refugee issue and allocates millions in taxpayer funding for a major United Nations agency, according to conversations with senior congressional officials working on the matter.
The State Department has, since the Obama administration was in office, been hiding a key report believed to expose the number of Palestinian refugees as far smaller than the U.N. and other[s] have claimed for decades. The public release of this information could alter how the United States provides funding for Palestinian refugees. . . .
Sources with direct knowledge of the report's contents have told the Free Beacon it puts the number of actual Palestinian refugees at around 20,000, far fewer than the 5.3 million figure routinely pushed by UNRWA and pro-Palestinian advocates who want to see the United States and international partners continue sending millions in aid to the Palestinian government.
As a recent op-ed in The Wall Street Journal explains:
[UNRWA] labels more than five million Palestinians “refugees”—an impossible figure. The first Arab-Israeli war, in 1948, yielded roughly 800,000 Palestinian Arab refugees. Perhaps 30,000 remain alive today, but [UNRWA] has kept the refugee issue alive by labeling their descendants—in some cases great-great-grandchildren—as “refugees,” who insist on the “right of return” to their ancestors’ homes. Israel categorically rejects this demand.
Pursuant to legislation passed in 2012, the State Department was required to produce a report “indicating the approximate number of people who, in the past year, have received UNRWA services”
(1) whose place of residence was Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948 and who were displaced as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict; and
(2) who are descendants of persons described in subparagraph (1).
That report was created and classified, until now.
Based on this information – not only the law but also media reports such as these indicating that this report could be a game changer – we filed our FOIA request and subsequent lawsuit to get to the bottom of it.
The now declassified report obtained by the ACLJ includes a section on the required information. It shows the 5 million figure for Palestinian “refugees.” However, the next sentence has been completely redacted. Either the redacted portions of this report contain the congressionally required breakdown of “refugees” and descendants of “refuges” or the Obama State Department violated the legislative requirements.
As we previously explained:
[T]he ACLJ filed its latest FOIA lawsuit concerning its request to the State Department for records about the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), including a particular U.S. report on UNRWA which, according to recent media attention, indicates awareness by State Department officials of fraud by UNRWA.
We initiated the FOIA request on February 5, 2018, following news reports that the Obama State Department created a report concerning UNRWA relief to Palestinian “refugees” but unnecessarily (and thus improperly) gave it a “Classified” designation to prevent the information from reaching Congress and the public.
According to press coverage, the UNRWA report was commissioned in 2015 by former Senator Mark Kirk (IL), who was seeking information on the number of Palestinian “refugees” served by UNRWA who actually lived in the territory now known as Israel between 1946 and 1948. Rather than providing Congress with the completed report, it appears the State Department classified the report and has withheld it from outside eyes, going so far, the media reports, as to ignore a 2017 congressional directive that the Department produce an unclassified version of the report. The report is said to confirm that the number of Palestinian “refugees” is only in the tens of thousands, rather than, as UNRWA claims, the millions.
While the ACLJ is categorically opposed to the government labeling or treating the Palestinians as “refugees” of any kind, the State Department has decided to play UNRWA’s game of improperly labeling Palestinians as “refugees” of a war Israel didn’t start. It has bought into the leftist, Palestinian, U.N. narrative that Israel is an aggressor nation – rather than one trying to protect its sovereignty and citizens – and that because Palestinians have no nation of their own (a choice made, ironically, by the Palestinian leadership itself in rejecting multiple two-state scenarios offered by Israel), they are “refugees” – a specific legal term with international legal repercussions that is blatantly misused in this situation.
Labeling [more than 5 million] Palestinians as “refugees” is legally, factually, and historically incorrect, and it must end.
UNRWA’s reliance on the inflated 5 million figure is not simply for economic purposes. It is primarily for political purposes to denigrate Israel. The Palestinian Authority (PA) uses UNRWA’s inflated numbers as a political weapon. The PA has consistently argued that these “refugees” have a “right of return” to what is in fact the State of Israel. The right of return for 5 million refugees would have a massively different impact than would tens of thousands, which is the PA’s precise goal – i.e., to relocate millions of Arabs to Israel in order to outnumber Jewish Israelis, take over the government, and eliminate the Jewish State.
This not-so-secret political aim is one of the primary reasons the PA has continually refused to recognize Israel as a Jewish State. As the PA knows full well, the only way it can wrest Israel from Jewish governance is to continue the false narrative that these 5 million-plus individuals, spanning multiple generations, have a “right of return.” If, in fact, we are able to prove that UNRWA’s numbers are improperly inflated, it would vindicate the position that Israel has taken for decades and expose one of the PA’s major fallacies.
UNRWA has consistently been an impediment to peace. By propagating a false narrative that millions of Palestinians are “refugees” when they are in fact not, UNRWA does nothing more than serve an anti-Israel agenda and should be disbanded.
In the days and weeks ahead, we will be going back to federal court to fight these redactions. Since the report has now been declassified, there should be no reason to maintain these redactions that could change the entire analysis of the report itself.